It may seem strange to contemplate now, but such were the clashes between the long-haired ’60s Summer of Love consciousness and ’70s Me Generation that having short hair at that time was considered weird. Couple that conflict with a group of teens blessed with insatiable curiosity about conceptual art and primal ’50s rock in the sun-kissed climes of the greater metropolitan Los Angeles area, and you’ve got a recipe for chaos on multiple levels of existence.
The result of that friction and excitement was a band known as The Weirdos.
The Weirdos, formed in the mid-’70s in L.A. by brothers John and Dix Denney, were influenced by everyone from Stockhausen to The Stooges and caught between the allure of making art and the breadth of their own obsessions. After The Weirdos played the first punk show in L.A. in 1977, the band inadvertently fostered — and then became — the first wave of American punk. At least, Time Magazine said it was so: It ran an article calling The Weirdos part of that new punk rock ’n’ roll all the kids were so nutty about. Alongside contemporaries like the Screamers, the Germs and the Bags, and through a series of singles on labels Bomp, Frontier and Dangerhouse, the band developed a repertoire of breathtakingly energetic songs that were at points melodic yet frenetic (“Helium Bar”), individualistic and nonsensical (“I’m Not Like You”) and resigned but multidimensional (“Life of Crime”), with John Denney’s voice inhabiting the lower regions and registers, rising up in a throaty explosion deep from the heart of his epiglottis.
The Weirdos weren’t as careerist as other punk bands — not that this is in any way an impediment to the creation of a band’s legend. Siouxsie and the Banshees were late to the party in terms of releasing their first album; the Screamers endure even though they had zero albums, their recorded history existing mostly in the realm of bootlegs. The Weirdos, like a river, have found their own way in their own time, releasing compilations of recordings so randomly and infrequently as to be essentially invisible. The band’s influence has lately loomed large. Marc Spitz and Brendan Mullen’s 2001 hagiography concerning those times, We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk, was named for one of The Weirdos’ biggest hits, and an anything-goes approach set the stage for decades of punk antics, albeit unintentionally. The band was, in its way, as much an inspiration to countless future punk bands as a lit match is to a stick of dynamite.
Conscious or not, that influence infused conceptual art and punk with a certain immediacy demanded by the times, the most cutting statement to that effect being, “We’ve Got the Neutron Bomb.” The explosive N-word of the punk era, the neutron bomb destroyed people but left buildings standing. Eyes melt, skin explodes, everybody dead. These offhanded Repo Man references are but bare shadows of the kind of world the ’70s and ’80s appeared to offer: one of peril, disintegration and no future.
The Weirdos, flying proudly in the face of all this paltry doom, used the only tools of resistance they had at their disposal: their art, their belief in themselves and the sanctity of their individual voice. As the original, singular weirdness of punk — an artform that gave room and voice to everyone, including amputee singers and musicians of color — gave way to hardcore and creeping sameness, The Weirdos faded as the ’80s wore on, exiting stage left just as a series of deaths (Dave Dacron of Rhino 39 and Darby Crash of the Germs in 1980; Chuck Wagon of The Dickies in 1981) dimmed some of the more unique lights of L.A. punk, making it distinctly less fun.
And yet, against all odds and despite changing tastes and perceptions of old age, the Denney brothers have picked up and continued The Weirdos where they left off. Like a beloved old engine resurrected by love, that revival started somewhat sporadically but never predictably, coming to full flower with live actions in the last years that led to a wildly successful 2014 Dangerhouse Records gathering in Los Angeles. The band has even reunited with early Weirdos bassist Bruce Moreland, gaining fans the likes of which it never could’ve dreamt of before. Think of it. A world full of Weirdos.
The Weirdos appear with Frankenstein and Mothers of Dissension on Saturday, Aug. 13 at 8 p.m. at The Garage, 1091 Scandia Ave., Ventura. For more information call 814-2234.